Summer hate wave

Racism and hatred of the other is as American as the Fourth of July, baseball and apple pie.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Day is observed every July 13 (his birthday) in Tennessee, and there is a bust of the Confederate general in the state Capitol building. Forrest (1821-1877) was in command of a 1,500-man cavalry unit that attacked Fort Pillow (in Tennessee) on April 12, 1864. The fort was defended by 557 Union soldiers including 262 “colored troops.”

After the Fort Pillow commander refused to surrender, Forrest’s men swarmed the parapets and the massacre began. Black and white Union soldiers tried to surrender but were shown no mercy. Surviving Union soldiers stated they were shot and bayoneted in cold blood.

Confederate soldier Achilles Clark wrote a letter to his sister describing the carnage: “The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded Negroes would run up and fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but they were ordered to their feet and shot down. The white men fared little better. The fort turned into a slaughter house. Blood, human blood stood about in pools, and brains could have been gathered up in quantity. … I with others tried to stop the butchery … but Gen. Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs.”

Historians James Patterson and Neil Kagan state that “black troops were the chief targets” of Confederate fury. When the murderous rampage concluded, only 58 of the 262 “colored troops” were still alive. Twenty-seven of the 195 white Union soldiers were killed at Fort Pillow.

More than 150 years after the Civil War, Nathan Bedford Forrest — the man who made a fortune buying and selling an estimated 7,500 slaves, orchestrated the Fort Pillow massacre and became the Grand Wizard of the terrorist Ku Klux Klan — continues to receive official recognition in Tennessee.

Earlier this summer, President Donald Trump told four newly elected Democratic congresswomen (all women of color) to “go back” to the “crime infested places” they came from. All are U.S. citizens, and only Ilhan Omar was not born in this country. Apparently these women don’t love the United States with the same intensity and fervor as our five-time draft-dodging commander-in-chief. For Trump it’s “America — love it or leave it.” A pity the cowardly lion didn’t take this position during the Vietnam War years and depart the “home of the brave.”

CNN reporter John Blake notes hatred of the other is hardly new in American history as we nearly wiped out Native Americans, enslaved both Africans and Native Americans and put Japanese Americans in concentration camps. To this list of the hated (at one time or another) we could add Asians in general, Hispanics, Catholics and Jews. For much of the late 19th century and first half of the 20th, Poles, Italians, Irish and Greeks were victims of prejudice and discrimination.

With his never-ending denigration of Muslims, Hispanics and others, Trump is telling his supporters the enemy is not the 1% who account for almost 40% of the wealth in a country of increasing inequality governed by and for the rich. No, the enemy is impoverished, desperate people who want a better life for themselves and for their children.

Of Trump’s disparaging four congresswomen, political scientist Michael Cornfield of George Washington University stated it’s not only what the president said but “the fact that he took time away from governance and staged a rally to whip up hatred.” Now-presidential-lap-dog Sen. Lindsey Graham had Trump figured out in 2016, stating he was a “race-baiting, xenophobic bigot.”

CNN senior political analyst and former Richard Nixon advisor David Gergen noted, “When you outdo Nixon in repulsiveness, you’ve come a long way.” As we move toward the 2020 presidential election, Trump’s hate speech will increase dramatically with his campaign events resembling 1930s Nazi Germany political rallies.

An article entitled “The Sanctity of Life Ethic” from the pro-life website Focus on the Family states: “We believe that human beings are created by God in His image. Therefore every person, from conception to natural death, possesses inherent dignity, and immeasurable worth — including preborn children, elderly individuals, those with special needs and other marginalized by society. Christians then are called to defend, protect and value all human life. In short, human life is sacred and respect for human life should be at the center of all we do.” While reasonable people can disagree on when, exactly, life begins, this is an excellent statement on the sanctity of all human life.

Anti-abortion demonstrations can attract thousands, even tens of thousands of individuals. Are these passionate right-to-life advocates gathering to protest the separation of children from their parents at the border? If not, what’s the reason for their inaction? Is it because these desperate people fleeing their home countries are attempting to enter the U.S. illegally? Is “inherent dignity” and the “immeasurable worth” of life a function of what side of the law one is on? If so, how does that square with the life of Jesus Christ? Wasn’t his ministry in violation of Jewish law?

In the Bible, Matthew 25:35, the King (Jesus) states: “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” A 2018 Pew Research Center poll found that 25% of white evangelical Protestants and 65% of “religiously unaffiliated” respondents said the U.S. should “accept refugees into this country.”

Writing in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez cites a Lifeway Research poll that found 90% of evangelicals stating “Scripture has no impact on their views toward migration reform.” Kobes Du Mez argues that evangelicals’ world view has been significantly influenced by the conservative media as well as their faith tradition.

From the Cold War years (the late 1940s to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991), evangelicals have perceived the U.S. as vulnerable to attack and think the nation has to be defended by “strong, aggressive, militant men.” Kobes Du Mez states that in spite of evidence to the contrary, for evangelicals, “immigrants and refugees are linked to terrorism,” with a significant number of the faithful concluding that strong men and a “strongman” are needed. The latter is Donald Trump, regardless of his “character flaws.”

According to Southern Baptist (evangelical) pastor Robert Jeffress, “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find” in the strongman role, “and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.”

The Lord works in mysterious ways, as the old saying goes. What if He decides to return to this world in human form as a child from Central America and journey to the United States with his parents? The Savior could end up in a cage, perhaps die in one.

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.

Sources:

Ben-Ghiat, R. (July 5, 2019) “There’s an irony in Trump making this July 4th about the military,” CNN, www.cnn.com

Bierman, N. (July 18, 2019) “Trump seeks to disavow ‘Send her back!’ chant as Democrats call for more security,” Los Angeles Times, www.latimes.com

D’Antonio, M. (July 30, 2019) “The roots of Trump’s bullying,” CNN, www.cnn.com

Earl, C. (accessed 2019) “The ‘Sanctity of Life’ Ethic,” Focus on the Family, www.focusonthefamily.com

Frank, R. (Sept. 27, 2017) “The top 1% of Americans now control 38% of the wealth,” CNBC, www.cnbc.com

“Gergen: Trump’s actions outdo Nixon in Repulsiveness” (July 21, 2019) CNN, www.cnn.com

“Here’s the story of the slave trader who Tennessee’ governor is honoring” (July 14, 2019) History News Network, www.historynewsnetwork.org

Kobes Du Mez, K. (2018) “Understanding White Evangelical Views on Immigration” (Spring/Summer 2018) Harvard Divinity Bulletin, https://bulletin.hds.harvard.edu

Harris, H. (May 24, 2018) “Republicans turn more negative toward refugees as number admitted to U.S. plummets,” Pew Research Center, www.pewresearchcenter.org

Patterson, J. and N. Keagan (2011) “The Untold Civil War,” National Geographic: Washington, D.C.

Stracqualursi, M. (July 13, 2019) “Tennessee governor signs proclamation honoring early KKK leader, sparking backlash,” CNN, www.cnn.com

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